How's your mental health? If you're like me, you may hear this question and wonder how one would even go about measuring how good or bad your mental health is. Perhaps because the discussion on mental health has now evolved far from the good old classic emotions such as happiness, sadness, excitement, fear and anger. The discourse on mental health has come a long way from the traumas endured by older generations who lived through some of history's most pivotal events such as World War 2 where some half a million service members suffered some sort of psychiatric collapse due to combat according to the National World War II Museumi. However, the new face of mental healthcare and treatment is only the very tip of the iceberg on a healthy mind. Throughout all of the new information available on mental health, one important fact has come into focus for many health practitioners and their patients – and that's the fact that good mental health can make a difference in your physical health.
Mental Health Stigma
Prior to 2008 the conversation on health mostly concerned physical health. In fact, it wasn't until 1946 that mental health as a field or discipline was defined by the World Health Organization during the International Health Conference in New York.ii With the 2008 Affordable Care Act mental health was put on the same level as physical health which was an important step in the right direction. Previously the term mental health was reserved for sever mental illness which throughout the 19th century was wrongly related to genetics and perhaps a condition inherited due to upbringing. In those times mental illness made a person dangerous and these ideas dominated the discourse on mental health which in turn based the foundation for the stigma behind mental health that persists today.iii Just as recent as 2019 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that mental health stigma still plague the American workplace with 62% of the participants saying they are somewhat comfortable with discussing mental health openly with coworkers and supervisors.iv
This is why legislation such as the Affordable Care Act is so important in that it helps to redefine word mental health and remove some of the stigmas that Americans may have. This redefinition is increasingly important as we as a nation discover that mental health belongs to everyone and not just those diagnosed with a severe mental illness. This comes into clear focus when we look into the mental health battles that are faced by those living with chronic illness which is impacting the lives of millions in America.
Chronic Disease and Mental Health
For those suffering with chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, having good mental health can make or break survivability. It is common to feel sad or discouraged after an incident relative to chronic illness. This is especially due to a change in quality of life which often comes as a direct result of a chronic illness diagnosis. For those living with diabetes and heart disease for example, a diagnosis can mean a very sudden shift in lifestyle, eating habits and an often-difficult overhaul to lifelong habits. Although on paper this doesn't seem terribly harsh, but for most this sudden shift in habits can be really challenging- after all, old habits die hard.
It's important to determine whether your mental health is in fact being impacted by chronic disease – as certainly temporary or fleeting feelings of sadness are common and not something to raise the alarm to. However, it is also important to recognize that depression is a serious medical illness and should the symptoms arise, to seek help from your doctor. Some symptoms of depression are persistent sadness or anxiety, unreasonably irritable or restless and unexplainable fatigue.
If you are familiar with the symptoms of common chronic diseases you may notice that some of these symptoms are the same or similar to those that come with chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease and this is why those living with chronic disease are at higher risk for depression. The reverse is also true with those who have mental health conditions are more at risk for other medical conditions such as chronic disease. This makes treating mental health issues just as important as treating physical ailments. For chronic disease patients who are experiencing symptoms of depression, taking a collaborative approach to both mental and physical health can help to improve overall outcomes.
Make Mental Health Apart of Your Health Routine
It is important to note that depression is treatable even when another illness is present and there are a number of different avenues to address mental health through prescribed drug treatments, therapy or a combination of the two. Although the American public still has a long way to go in dismantling the stigma around mental health, just know that the wheels are in motion and as public opinion on mental health continues to change hopefully, we can all learn to incorporate mental health into our daily health regiments. This can be as easy as reaching out to friends and family and talking openly about your mental health, or doing the things that make you happy and put your mind at ease. Just as with eating healthy and exercising, you only need devote a portion of your day to nurturing your mental health to keep in good shape. As well should you find that you're exhibiting symptoms of depression, especially if you are one of the many Americans who are living with chronic disease, just know that you are not alone and there are a number of treatments out there to help you get back on track. No matter the case, be sure to start that conversation on mental health with your doctor so that this important part of what makes your health whole doesn't get left out of the conversation.
- WWII Post Traumatic Stress
- The roots of the concept of mental health
- From Sin to Science: Fighting the Stigmatization of Mental Illness
- About half of workers are concerned about discussing mental health issues in the workplace; a third worry about consequences if they seek help
- Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression